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Skilled Italian transfer student leads revival for CSS girls' program
Rome may not have been built in one day, but CSS' hoops fortunes changed the moment Degradi arrived
Personal: Exchange student from Milan, Italy
School: Colorado Springs School
Position: Point guard
Points per game: 21.2
Favorite player: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets (Because he too is from Milan)
Notable: Set a school record with 42 points in a Jan. 19 65-30 win over Miami-Yoder
Colorado Springs School coach Venita Ames knew Italian transfer student Letizia Degradi had mentioned she played basketball in her exchange student application. So Ames challenged Degradi to a game of H-O-R-S-E after a volleyball practice.
Ames had no idea what she was in for. In a match that ended with the two taking no-look shots and half-court heaves, Degradi defeated the former college basketball player two out of three.
“I beat her,” Degradi said, with a smile.
The loss was one Ames will take gratefully. It told her she had a true talent, maybe even one to anchor this season’s inexperienced team. Degradi has done more than that, taking over the team at point guard and putting up numbers that rank among the best in the state.
Through Thursday’s games, Degradi ranked ninth statewide in all classifications and third in 2A with a 21-point average. And that was mostly at point guard. Ames recently moved the team’s best player to shooting guard. The results were instant. Degradi posted a school-record 42 points against Miami-Yoder.
The team has benefited from the addition. The Kodiaks went 1-18 last season, but are off to an 8-6 start. With Degradi on the perimeter, sophomore Kendra Baucom has had room to develop her skills on the inside. Baucom is averaging 11 points and 14.4 rebounds.
But the biggest difference over a year ago is the flair provided by the 16-year-old Milan product who is so skilled she can juggle three basketballs.
“There’s not a day that goes by when she doesn’t do something in practice or a game that has (the coaches) shaking their heads and saying, ‘Wow,’” Ames said.
Degradi is loving the American game. The 3-point line is closer. The game is more physical, teaching her to adapt. Maybe her favorite difference, she gets to play against athletes her age. Back in Italy, she plays for the club team Idea Sport, which has a number of players in their early 20s and another in her 40s. The youngest, not including herself, is 19.
“It’s definitely a new feeling when you see players look up to you,” said Degradi, who joined a number of clubs at CSS because Italian schools don’t have extracurricular activities. “When you go on the court and you see other people who are 22 or 23 years old, you know that they’ve always been playing basketball. They know what I’m going to do, so you have to find other methods to reach your goal.”
Degradi shows a philosophy and understanding beyond her age of the game’s difference between the countries. She attributes her fundamentals to Italian training. That and “hours” of help from her older brother, Daniele.
“Here your move may be faster from the moment you start (practicing) to when you start playing games,” Degradi said. “Before (you play in games in Italy) you work on your fundamentals.”
Despite knowing she’s the best option to score, her initial thought is to always find the open player.
“If I see a person that is open I don’t think about how good that person is that’s shooting,” Degradi said. “I just give the ball. Maybe they will get better because they receive the ball and they can shoot.”
And to think, Degradi was worried about seeing playing time.
“I thought I’d be on the bench the whole time,” Degradi said. “I remember last year at this moment wondering with my brother about how good the other people were going to be compared to me. And how bad I was going to be compared to the other people. He was like, ‘Yeah, but you will still be able to practice with them and get better.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe sometimes I will be able to play and get on the court.’”
With her scoring touch, there’s little reason for her to get off the court.